Study Guide

Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil's Deal Setting

By Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill

Setting

Straight Outta Boston

It's impossible to understand Whitey Bulger without first understanding South Boston. From the city's complex internal politics, to its unspoken code of ethics, the tale of Whitey Bulger wouldn't be half as complex if it didn't take place in Southie.

Top o' the Morning

Southie, as it's known to residents, is defined by its working-class Irish-American roots. Here the Catholic Church reigns supreme and even the street names reference to regions in the home country. This ethnic identity comes to define Southie, giving the city a pronounced conservative bent. In fact:

[…] nothing [...] galvanized Southies more than a perceived slight by an outside who would change The Way Things Are. (1.2.11)

And boy do Southies hate outsiders. Whether you're a fed trying to integrate the neighborhood's public schools, a police officer trying to solve crimes, or a Yankee looking to fill the hood with high rises, chances are you're going to be despised by residents of South Boston. Similarly, native Southie tend to stick around, and "to this day the neighborhood consistently maintains the highest percentage of long-term residents in the city" (1.2.9). Even Whitey stays in his childhood home well into his adulthood.

Bulgerville, Massachusetts

You can't talk about Southie without talking about those dastardly Bulger boys, as both come to define Southie in their unique ways. Whitey, the gangster, becomes a Robin Hood-esque bad boy for residents: an anti-hero who protects Southies while ripping off outsiders. Billy Bulger, state senator, is also seen as someone who protects Southie, with a major example being his passionate opposition to federally-led efforts to integrate the neighborhood.

Of course, from our perspective, we can see the truth:

Southie had suffered in Whitey's hands. (2.12.21)

He kills its residents, exploits its businesses, and even floods its streets with drugs. Although Billy isn't directly involved in this activity, the implicit approval he gives Whitey allows Whitey to engage into this horrendous underworld activity to his heart's content. So, though they come to define South Boston, Whitey and Bulger certainly aren't giving their hood a good name.